Sunday, August 7, 2016

I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because.....

"There are no strangers here.  Only friends you have not yet met." ~ William Butler Yeats

It has been one week since I returned home from a week of isolation from the real world. 

Camping each evening, rising before 6 am each morning, breaking down camp, and pedaling away eastward by 7:30 am in search of breakfast.

With 12,000 - 15,000 other cyclists.  Most of them strangers. With the exception of my fellow teammates that made up 2016 RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG.

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp having signed up for RAGBRAI after being on the losing end of a bet....this runner had no business being on a bike, let alone for a week long ride across an entire state. 

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp surrounded by strangers, with the exception of a few LIVESTRONG staffers - who also knew I had no business being on a bike.

Seven days later I left with an extended add to the other LIVESTRONG families I have created over the years through other events and volunteer roles for the foundation.

Every year since that first year, there have been a few more strangers showing up at camp on day one.....and by day two, they are strangers no more.

One of our traditions every night is to have a team meeting to review logistics for the next day, reflect on the day's ride and adventures, and share personal stories about our own cancer journey.  This year a teammate suggested we all share "I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because...."

Not surprisingly there was a similar theme among the responses.

We all started our involvement for similar reasons - some were cancer survivors, others to pay tribute to a loved one that was impacted by cancer - currently in the fight, a survivor or stolen from us.  We all were involved because we believed in LIVESTRONG and the services it provides to our communities.

As we went around the campsite, there was another common theme in all our responses as to why we continue RAGBRAI'

LIVESTRONG has always been a family to me from that very first marathon I participated in 2009.  The family has continued to grow with every event.

The TEAM LIVESTRONG RAGBRAI family is somewhat different.  8 days of complete isolation from reality......24 hours a day for a full week of highs and lows, of laughter and tears, of support and teasing on another.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ~ Henri Nouwen
My reality is not easy.  It is not easy for my children.  But it is what it is and somehow we muddle through every day.  I'm not sure how different it would be if cancer had not stolen Brian from us.  It may not have been any easier but it would have been different.

Riding my bike across Iowa is hard - but not reality hard.  Illinois is flat.  Iowa is not.  Life is crazy and I don't always get enough training in.  So why would I keep going?

I do not go to RAGBRAI for the cycling.  I go to RAGBRAI for my family reunion.  For my escape from reality.  This is my summer camp.  These folks let me escape.  These people recognize that the other 51 weeks of the year, I'm pretty much on a tilt-a-whirl.  These people don't care.  These people love me.  These people support me.  These people make me laugh so hard my belly aches for 7 days.  These people lift me up when I am down.

This year's RAGBRAI was the most difficult for me - under trained, overweight and a different mental frame of mind.

I had a particular tough ride on the first day - to the point I was on the verge of tears along the route, I wanted to give up.  But this family.....this group of people.....they embraced me - on route and off route.  They pulled over if they saw me on the side stopped, they encouraged me to take my time - to keep pushing on. 

When I was the absolute last of the team to show up at our daily meet-up spot along the route - well beyond the time they all arrived - I was expecting it to be a solo stop.  But there they were,  In the perfect spot in the shade.  A highlight of that miserable hot, difficult, emotional ride - hearing my name over the dim of the riders enjoying a well earned beverage along the route.

As soon as I got to the group, the tears began spilling out of me.  The heat, the reality that this was harder than I was ready for and the feeling of defeat had overcome me. 

This group.  This team.  This family.  They understood.  They embraced me.  They let me feel  down.  They made me laugh.  They waited.  They got me back on my bike.  They inspired me.  They propped me back up.  They got me through the week.

This is why I RAGBRAI.  This is why I LIVESTRONG. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Push Barb Across Iowa!!

My summer vacation this year doesn't involve a trip to Europe, sightseeing through museums in a major city,  lounging poolside, cruising an exotic locale or planting myself on a sandy beach while dipping my toes in the ocean.

For the fifth year in a row, my week vacation involves camping in rural Iowa, sleeping on the ground in stifling, windless, humid July nights, and cycling each day 50 - 90 miles a day to get myself from western Iowa to the Mississippi.

I can imagine what is going through your head....."she's crazy," "has she lost her flipping mind?," and "what is she thinking?"

You are all correct in thinking those sentiments.

The reason I keep spending my summer vacation in this fashion is because I can't imagine NOT spending a week in this fashion.

A week surrounded by like-minded cancer hating friends (whom where all strangers when I started this).  No, not friends......FAMILY.

I ride for Team LIVESTRONG.

I ride for those than cannot.

I ride to educate and advocate for an organization that has identified gaps in the resources needed by the cancer community.....and fills these gaps.

I'll do the riding.  I'll pitch my tent.  I'll sleep on the ground.  I'll shower in high school gyms.  I'll get up each morning and do it over again, and again, and again.

But in order to do this, I need to raise at least $1,000.  In years past, I have been over $7,000.  This year I'm only at $183!!


I am riding 468 miles across Iowa in July to support LIVESTRONG and raise funds needed to continue providing these FREE services.  

FREE navigation services that provide assistance to survivors, caregivers and health professionals.  Services that go beyond a diagnosis.

LIVESTRONG Navigation Services saw a 40% increase in usage this past year, which means even more people were provided tools to assist in their cancer battle.  These services are free due to donations.

Sadly, the number of people that get cancer each year continues to rise (1 out of every 2 humans will get cancer - look around you......someone in the room with you WILL get cancer).  In 2015, it was estimated there would be an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths in the US.

These cancer survivors, their caregivers, their families and their health care providers need the services provided by LIVESTRONG.

But again, I can only ride and support the foundation if I raise the funds.  So how can you help?

Well, simply....make a donation.

It's that easy.  Click the link below and donate whatever you can afford.....$10, $20, $50, $100, $500.  It all helps!


Please leave a comment below for anyone I can ride in their honor or memory.  Knowing I am helping others makes it that much easier to get up the hills, to keep pedaling each day.  And knowing I am honoring your loved ones makes it all that more special for helps push me!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Remembering When.....and Now

Almost 5 years to the date on October 28, 2010, I began this blog with my first post 200 Miles to Kick Cancer's it all began

Way back then, I decided to run a half marathon a month in 2011 to raise funds for LIVESTRONG, raise awareness of their services, and honor the memory of my spouse, sister and parents - all lost to cancer.

I proposed to race 211 miles and I accomplished it while raising over $11,000.  The races were book-ended by two marathons on opposite coasts , LA in an unusually cold monsoon rainstorm and NYC - coast to coast.  In between included my first Quad Cities half (which has become a regular), an indoor half running around a speed skating rink, Hood to Coast (well not quite a race but lots of mileage), another in 40 mph winds, as well as several new races.

Fast forward five year to today.  Big accomplishment achieved.  I dusted off my shoes and finished a 3.1 mile run.  And it was hard.

No music so I began thinking - A LOT - on that short (but seemingly never ending) run, Exactly how many runs have I completed this year.


Yes, you read that correctly.  13!

Basically one run a month.

Geez.  What happened?

If you have been reading this blog over the years, you know there has been a lot of soul searching, some very delayed grief induced depression, lack of motivation, a broken toe and an extra 20 plus pounds.

As I look back  upon year and last, I cannot really differentiate one year from the other.  Somehow, lack of goals and motivation has made it incredibly easy to say "I'll workout tomorrow."   And has left me wondering how did I waste so much time doing nothing?

Life has been a bit more stressful these past few years.  I know, we all have stress.  I unfortunately have not coped very well with it.  It has caused me to become a hermit, to get too comfortable being lazy, to eat junk food, to sleep too much (wait, is that really possible?).  I know these are all excuses but reality.  A reality so many struggle with.

I am grateful I have this blog to reflect back on - it really made me realize how much I had accomplished vs what I've accomplished in 2014 and 2015.  Made me realize how quickly life can change if you allow it to take control of you.

So as I did five years ago, I am setting a goal.  It is not nearly as impressive as that goal from 2010, but it will cause me to make some much needed changes in my life at the moment.

My goal for the remainder of 2015 is to complete as many runs as I have done so already this year.

13 runs.  That's it.  Doesn't sound like much but considering it took me 10 months to do 13, getting another 13 in over two months as the colder weather takes hold will be a major accomplishment for me.

2016 - well lets see if I can accomplish the rest of 2015 first but I have some ideas......

As for the rest of you, take a moment to reflect on the year - don't wait until it is over!  Are there some changes you want to make or goals you set out back in January that have slipped away? Leave me a comment below and let's help each other be accountable!.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from the Bike

I don't often go for long bike rides on country rides alone but this evening I did.

Not too far but 20 plus miles squeezed in after work, camp pick-up, dinner and car-pooling to basketball practice.

A rare night this month without threat of a monsoon rain and flash flood warnings.  Clear blue skies, perfect temps, a light breeze from the north and sunshine.  Rare indeed.

As I set off on my bike, my intention was to gather up a few miles to get my out of shape body at least familiar with my bike as I was heading off to Iowa next month (17 days to be exact) to meet up with fellow cancer haters and ride 490 miles across the state with Team LIVESTRONG....and 10,0000 of our closest new BFFs.

The night was perfect.  It  felt great to be back out on my bike after doing a 64 mile hilly and windy ride on Saturday.  My legs felt good and I beginning to feel that maybe a week on the bike next month wasn't going to be as rough as I had imagined.

As much as I struggle running alone, I actually enjoy the solitude of cycling alone.  I prefer to ride with friends but on this occasion, the solitude along with the perfect conditions and surrounded by nature, was a good thing.

As I rode, I realized how much I miss when I am riding with others.  I love the social aspect of the group - sharing stories, getting advice, laughing and cheering each other on.  But tonight, I realized there is so much beauty in these cornfields I have taken  for granted.  A horse I've never noticed aside a barn with unusually aged wood, gorgeous wildflowers among a small patch of trees on a small bluff surrounded by corn, the whirring of the windmills, and my own shadow elongated against the cornfields.

I never did see another person while I was out on that ride once I left town.  Not another cyclist or anyone in their yards.  Not even a dog chasing me - or even barking.

I was listening to the chirping of birds as they swooped up and down among the crops, the fluttering of monarch butterflies around me at different points on the route, and my own slight breathing as I churned my legs up an incline..  I finally began to realize how wonderful it was to be so stress of day-to-day life had lifted from my shoulders.

At this point, I was beginning to really appreciate the solitude and just truly enjoy the ride for being a ride.....not the "I need to get some miles on my legs and seat" and "have to" ride.

It was also at this point that I began passing the destination - the wildflower patch for which this "Wildflower Route" was named for.  This patch never has looked the same but is always a pleasant and wonderful view amidst miles and miles of cornfields.

Just beyond the wildflowers is a winding hilly (by central Illinois standards) section of the rode that is always quiet and peaceful.

As I entered this section, I began to reflect that today was Brian's birthday and how I wish I had more time this evening to ride 49 miles in memory of what would have been his 49th birthday.  

As I was thinking about Brian - suddenly a deer appeared galloping through the field in this very peaceful spot - I slowed my bike as to not startle him and watched with wonder the beauty of this creature as he pranced across the road and into the woods.  It took me a moment to pick up my pace again - partially because I was being cautious that others may be right behind him, which was not the case, and because I just could not stop marveling at the sight I had just seen on my perfect solitude ride.

And to have seen this just as I began thinking of Brian.

I smiled, shook my head and said to out loud to myself "Thank you Brian" for I truly believe that was one of those signs he has thrown at me over the years to remind me that life is beautiful, that he is watching over us.

A sign to slow down and appreciate what is around me.  To take to enjoy the solitude that surrounds me more often than I am comfortable.

Of course, as I was sharing this story with my 17 year old, we both began to chuckle a sounded a bit to though I was sharing a "Harry Potter" moment.... my very own patronus.

Regardless, this little ride tonight along with my "patronus" has lighted my mood and caused me to slowdown and appreciate the world around me.....apparently I needed some reminding!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Good for the Soul

Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul. ~ Democritus

Soul searching has been on my mind quite a bit lately.
I'm not sure what I am searching for but I know it is goodness, it is happiness, it is effortless, it is comfortable.  I know it is not a possession.  It is not a material matter.  
Deep down I think we all are searching, we are all looking for the answer to life....what is it that will make each moment on this earth worthwhile.
It is different to all of us, just as we each have a favorite color (red for me) or favorite song that can turn your mood instantly (Just Like Heaven by The Cure for me).
But what makes me tick.....what makes me jump out of bed ready to tackle the world.....that my friends, I am still searching for.
Cut to this morning.
Cold.  Gloomy.  Down right dreary.
It has the look and feel of the March, not the last day of May.
It was a morning to curl up on my couch under a blanket, drink coffee and watch mindless television.  It was a day that didn't have me jumping out of bed to tackle the world.  It was a day I wanted to hide from the world.
There is "stuff" going on - typical stuff that isn't to worry about - but still wants you want to hide from reality.  Let's  be honest - a few teenagers and a pre-teen makes a mom worry.
It was a day that my soul felt very lost.
Then I happened to check Facebook.....a ride with some fantastic ladies was taking place this morning.  I had been excited about it but the weather had me firmly placed on my couch.
I noticed one particular friend I hadn't seen in awhile was attending.  And that's just what I needed.
I got off the couch, grabbed my gear and off I went to meet the group.
So glad I got off the couch and on my bike - although it wasn't fast or far today - it was just what my soul needed.
Good friends, great conversation and some fresh's good for the soul!
It was goodness, it was happiness, it was effortless, it was comfortable.
I still haven't figured out the answers, but for this one hour today, "it" was present.
Thank you ladies - you know who you are - for making this dreary blah day a bit brighter and getting me back on my blog!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Accidental Absence of Solitude

I'm back.

Back from a much too long absence.

An accidental absence.

I haven't gone anywhere during this absence.

I haven't made any major life changes during either.

It has a been an absence of solitude.

Solitude or maybe perhaps better defined as loneliness.

So I return.

I return to this blog because getting the words down has made a difference in the past.  Maybe no one will read them - that's OK.  Somehow getting my thoughts out in the world helps.  Strange but true. Perhaps that is because when I do, I realize I am not really as alone as I think I am.  That others feel the same way or if nothing else, now have a better idea of what widowhood is like.

It has a been a slow decent.

I thought the worst years were behind me.

But I was wrong.

This past August marked the beginning of my tenth year as a widow.  Ten years of solitude.  I originally thought this was going to be a big year - that I was going to feel great about this milestone.
I had survived ten years of an unwelcome life as a single parent due to the hands of cancer.  I had survived parenting alone for ten years.  I survived the "crazy over scheduled" years with three kids involved in baseball, theater, swimming and art classes.  I survived the teenage boy years, the learning to drive years, the applying to college years.  I haven't quite survived the preteen girl years - that one is an enigma that I'm still trying to navigate.  I barely survived the "getting out there and dating" - that one wasn't fun and but I tried it.

I have reached personal accomplishments I never dreamed of before Brian's passing.  Traveling alone, marathons, cycling, sharing my personal story.

The most difficult years were behind me.

Or so I thought.

The past few years I've noticed more downs than ups.

More personal disappointment.

More boredom.

And feeling very a life that doesn't feel like mine.

As I reflect back on the past year or two, each day seems the same.   Just walking through life.

That needs to change.  I need to change.  What happens if I don't?  Will those two years become five? ten? a lifetime?

I am not sure how I will do it but picking up this blog seems to be a start.  The honestly needed to write these entries holds me accountable.

I will take baby steps....starting with exercising more regularly again.  Then making some hard decisions on making major changes.

Honestly when we all look back on our lives, we all want it to have been full of life, right?  Not full of being stuck in rut....watching the years pass by like a blink of an eye.

Have I lived a full life?  Yes.  But the question is, am I still living a full life?  Nor really.  I'm more likely to be sitting in my house doing nothing - like I was on this absolutely gorgeous spring day - wasting a perfectly fantastic day with not a single accomplishment other than a load of laundry, a trip to the grocery store and watching tv.

A reality check is needed.  Until I truly reflected on the past two years, I didn't realize how unhappy I have been for so long.  Without reflection, can any of us really change?

I'll keep you posted!